Trump suggests he won't 'allow' rule changes for next debates with Biden

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump suggested he will not allow changes to the format of his remaining debates against Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
  • The Commission on Presidential Debates has said it will alter the rules for the next debates.
  • The first debate between Trump and Biden in Cleveland was widely criticized because it quickly devolved into name-calling, and for Trump's repeated interruptions of the former vice president.
U.S. President Donald Trump participates in the first 2020 presidential campaign debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, held on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, September 29, 2020.
Brian Snyder | Reuters

President Donald Trump on Thursday suggested that he would not accept any expected changes to the rules of his remaining debates with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on the heels of their chaotic and acrimonious first showdown.

"Why would I allow the Debate Commission to change the rules for the second and third Debates when I easily won last time?" Trump tweeted.

But Trump's top campaign officials, on a call with reporters, later said Trump looks forward to participating in the next two debates and winning them, even as one of those officials said the leadership of the Commission on Presidential Debates were Washington, D.C., "swamp creatures" who were mulling changes to help Biden.

Biden and Trump's fiery first debate—Here are the highlights
Biden and Trump's fiery first debate—Here are the highlights

"President Trump fully plans on participating in and winning both the second and third debates in the presidential contest here," said Trump campaign official Jason Miller.

"So we feel very confident but there should not be any changes to what's been agreed to and set out, and it's pretty notable that the Biden camp is pushing for some of these changes for the simple fact that their candidate did not win on Tuesday," Miller said. However, multiple polls showed that voters believed Biden won the first debate.

Biden vowed later Thursday that he would not back out of the second debate.

"Yes I will participate in the next debate," the former vice president told reporters.

Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien began the press call by saying that the Commission on Presidential Debates, while claiming to be nonpartisan, had board members who have made critical comments about Trump and who have contributed to Democratic candidates. He did not say why the campaign had previously agreed to have the commission sponsor the debates given those concerns he voiced Thursday.

Trump's tweet and the press call came a day after the commission announced it would make changes to the format of this month's showdowns with Biden.

The planned changes, the details of which have yet to be announced, are an effort to prevent a repeat of the vitriolic first debate between the two candidates in Cleveland on Tuesday night.

That raucous contest was widely criticized because of moderator Chris Wallace's inability to prevent Trump from repeatedly interrupting Biden's allotted time for answering questions, and for name-calling between the two candidates.

The phrase "train wreck" was used by many commentators to describe the debate, which is set to be followed by a second showdown on Oct. 15 in Miami, and the last debate on Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tennessee.

The commission on Wednesday said the first "debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues."

It also had said that day that it "intends to ensure that additional tools to maintain order are in place for the remaining debates."

The commission is considering cutting off a candidate's microphone if they violate the rules, according to NBC News.

Max Miller, the Trump campaign's lead debate negotiator, said on the press call that the idea for a mute on the microphones was suggested by a Biden campaign official, Brady Williamson, during a meeting with the commission on Wednesday morning.

Miller said Williamson also proposed changes that included allowing each candidate to make opening and closing statements at the debates, and limiting the discussion phase, during which the candidates can talk with each other, "to almost nothing."

The Biden campaign did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation that Williamson made those suggestions. 

But asked Thursday afternoon whether he would support muting microphones at the debate, Biden said, "As long as we have an opportunity to respond to the questions from the people in the audience."

At a White House press briefing earlier Thursday, Trump's spokeswoman, Kayleigh McEnany, said, "With regard to the commission rule changes, the president made clear his view on that yesterday, that he thinks the only way there's a fair debate is a change in the moderator and a change in the Democrat nominee."

"He wants to debate, he plans on being at the debate, but he wants the rules to be fair and wants a fair exchange and doesn't want rules that cover for a certain candidate's inability to perform well," McEnany said.

Biden on Wednesday had said changes were needed.

"I just hope there's a way in which the debate commission can control the ability of us to answer the question without interruption," Biden had said.

Spokesmen for Biden's campaign and the debate commission had no immediate comment Thursday.

But Biden's spokesman, Andrew Bates, in response to Trump's tweet, in a Twitter post of his own linked to three news articles reporting polls that showed Biden had won the debate.

A slew of scientific polls did show that a majority of the public believed Biden had won the showdown.

Miller, the Trump campaign official, during the press call Thursday listed a number of online polls that showed Trump had won the debate. At least one of those polls, on NJ.com, pointedly told participants that it was an "informal, unscientific poll."